Alvin Lustig – Modern American Designer Pioneer

Alvin Lustig’s contributions to the design of books and book jackets, magazines, interiors, and textiles as well as his teachings would have made him a credible candidate for the AIGA Lifetime Achievement award when he was alive. By the time he died at the age of forty in 1955, he had already introduced principles of Modern Art to graphic design that have had a long-term influence on contemporary practice. He was in the vanguard of a relatively small group who fervently, indeed religiously, believed in the curative power of good design when applied to all aspects of American life. He was a generalist, and yet in the specific media in which he excelled he established standards that are viable today” (Braxton Nations)

“The above pages are from Ghost in the Underblows, an epic poem by Alfred Young Fisher (who was one of Sylvia Plath’s teachers). They are the most sophisticated of Lustig’s works that build images out of pre-existing typeornaments. By creating complex visual forms with a set of relatively simple pre-existing – and pre-determined tools -Lustig comes up with an early kind of sampling: recontextualizing pre-existing fragments to make them “sound” new.

It’s a stretch, perhaps, but there are formal relationships to these works and early conceptual and minimal art such as Sol Lewitt’s early cube pieces, which use a pre-determined set of parts to build a variety of wholes. Of course, Lustig isn’t after the same things that Lewitt would be interested in 25 years later; but both saught vocabulary expansion through limitations (Steve Roden 2006).

Thanks to my buddy, Chris Hamby, for tipping me off to Lustig design work in Ghost in the Underblows. Hamby is a constant vessel of source material for this blog. Check out his much more articulate and wordly blog by clicking HERE.



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